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I was born into a Protestant family. Or maybe Methodist. Could’ve been Lutheran. Honestly, I was never sure which denomination my family belonged to, but it seems irrelevant at this point. I’m 23 years old now and it was shortly after my 15th birthday that I realized there are no gods, no heaven or hell, or any of the other various religious ideas that most people believe in. In short, I became an atheist.
Most people I know have retained their religious identity, or lack of, all their lives. Most of my friends who were born into Christian families still hold onto those Christian beliefs. My friends who were raised in non-religious families still haven’t picked up a religious identity. Sadly, I have no friends outside of Christianity and the non-religious. But unlike most people I know, my beliefs underwent a stark change, and it happened right around the time I entered high school. I began to question my Christian faith during the last few months of middle school, and then fully renounced all ties to Christianity, and all religions for that matter, during the first few months of high school.
Ironically, it was during my confirmation into the church that I began to question what I had been raised to believe all my life, and I’ll never forget the exact moment it started. A few times a week, the other confirmees and I would meet at the church for a study session with adult members of the congregation. During one of these study sessions, the teacher was explaining the many ways that God talks to us. One of those ways is through our dreams. The teacher gave a lengthy explanation about how dreams are messages from God, and she gave personal testimonies about how God had guided her own life through her dreams. For whatever reason, I’ve only been able to recall my dreams on a few, rare occasions in my life. When I told her this she told me, “then God doesn’t talk to you in that way.”
I was bewildered. I couldn’t understand why everyone else received personal dream messages from God and I didn’t. Didn’t he love us all equally? Was I not important enough to get the nightly memos from the man upstairs?
I was so shocked that I didn’t even argue with the teacher. Instead I went home and hopped on the desktop computer that I shared with my siblings. I incessantly researched everything I could about dreams and how God talks to us. This hunger for knowledge soon blossomed into much more and I found myself spending a few hours scouring the Web every day, learning everything I could about all the different religious opinions people had and the “facts” they provided to support their claims. For several months, reading religious debates online became a favored pastime of mine.
During this time, I gradually came to develop my own flavor of Christianity. I rejected many of the traditional Christian beliefs, but most of all I rejected Hell. I refused to accept the notion that an all-loving god could condemn us to such pain. I told myself that no one went to Hell because no one deserved such a terrible fate. Instead, when people died they stood before God and he explained to them what they had done wrong in their life and what they had done right. Then he forgave them and let them into Heaven. It was a line of reasoning that gave me comfort. So I retained my Christian identity, but with a newfound sense of self-righteousness. That only lasted a few, short months though.
One day it simply clicked. I realized that I had sculpted my own idea of what Christianity was. I realized that I had done exactly what so many others before me had done. I realized that despite believing that God made me in his image, I actually made him in my own. And ever since that realization I have remained an atheist.
As for how I describe my faith today? I’m not sure how best to answer that. I have faith in certain ideas. I have faith in certain people. But in the religious sense, most people would probably say that I have lost my faith. If that is true, then I would argue that I have found my reason, and I’ve become a happier person because of it.
Lucas E. Schmidt